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Restoring the Trust

Restoring Journalism Trust: Is It Too Late?
A Conference weblog by Leonard Witt & Colleagues

Restoring the Trust

November 17, 2005

Wake Up Call Final Report Released

Are the news media in an irreversible decline? Can quality journalism be saved? Learn what top thinkers said at our San Antonio conference: A Wake Up Call: Can Quality and Trust Save Journalism?

See the opinions of high profile panelists, including Phil Meyer, Jay Rosen, Dan Gillmor, Neil Chase, Dori Maynard, Craig Newmark, Chris Nolan and many more.

Go now to the videos, photos, and final report itself at the Final Report page edited by Donica Mensing, Merlyn Oliver and me and designed by Alex Newman.

For an overview of the conference, click on the video below, shot and produced by David Gyimah, producer of the Batten Award winning View Magazine. It features Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media; Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity; Clyde Bentley, from MyMissourian, Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, Fabrice Forin, executive director of News Trust, and me predicting the future. Bentley says we have to offer flowers to the audiences who we slapped in the face.

Cole Campbell and I introduce the conference and I make a pitch for how our news audiences are just waiting to become a part of what journalists are doing. We just have to invite them to the party.

You can read Campbell's introduction or hear him below here:

Read my The Audience Can Save Quality Journalism, If Asked to Help or listen below:

Phil Meyer, author of the Vanishing Newspaper, is featured on the newspaper death spiral and other woeful tales.

A Wake Up Call is the centerpiece of a one-year Journalism and the Public: Restoring the Trust project developed in partnership with the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication at Kennesaw State University and the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada-Reno in consultation with the PJNet and the AEJMC's Civic and Citizen Journalism and Community Journalism interest groups.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 08:54 AM

October 09, 2005

Coming Soon: The Wake Up Call Week

Cole Campbell and Donica Mensing at the University of Nevada-Reno are busy assembling the final report from our Wake Up Call conference and other parts of the Journalism and the Public: Restoring the Trust Year.

During that week we will post the final report, the complete conference transcripts, photos and two videos from the event.

In the meantime be sure to take a look at the continuing list of Restoring the Trust IM Interviews.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 03:59 PM

August 10, 2005

San Antonio Journalism Trust Conference Success

It's late Tuesday night, and I finally have a chance to write about the very successful A Wake Up Call: Can Quality and Trust Save Journalism? conference.

I was too busy to blog it, but here is the first of a few blogs from speaker Craig Newmark, pictured here. has been writing a lot about the issue. And here is basically what I said in my opening statement.
More than 100 academics, journalists and citizens attended it. Our partners, the folks at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno will be writing a special report, plus George White and David Willis of the Center for Communications and Community at UCLA and David Gyimah, producer, journalist and senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, were making videos of it.

So in time we will be posting lots of information about what we heard and learned. Now it is time to hit the sack.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 12:54 AM

August 08, 2005

Gain Journalism Trust by Building Links to Public

Here are my planned comments for the opening of the Wake Up Call: Can Trust and Quality Save Journalism? conference tomorrow:

First, here is the key point:

What better way to establish trust and quality than to make the public part of what you do. Or better yet make yourself part of what they are doing...Become an indispensable link built on trust and quality.

The full notes:

The impetus for the Journalism and the Public: Restoring the Trust project, of which this conference is a part, was the CBS/Dan Rather firestorm of criticism and the September, 2004, Gallup Poll which reported, “the news media’s credibility has declined significantly, with just 44 percent of Americans expressing confidence in the media’s ability to report news stories accurately and fairly,” representing a 10 percent drop from year before and the worst level in 30 years.

The Gallup Poll re-enforced the “State of the Media 2004” report, published by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which stated, “Public attitudes about the press have been declining for nearly 20 years. Americans think journalists are sloppier, less professional, less moral, less caring, more biased, less honest about their mistakes and generally more harmful to democracy than they did in the 1980s.” It continues, however: “Journalists believe they are working in the public interest and are trying to be fair and independent in that cause. This is their sense of professionalism.” There was and is an apparent disconnect here.

In this project we want to help determine why the disconnect exists and to help journalists at least consider it—and if necessary, to begin to make changes. However, even in the best of conditions, change is a slow process and it will not begin by itself. It needs catalysts for action and this project is designed to be one of those catalysts. With proper presentation, we believe journalists and journalism teachers can see which changes would be beneficial to them, their profession, and the general public.

Some questions that might help guide us today are:

·Is the mainstream media in a death spiral?
·Can improving editorial quality and trust save it?
·If not, where will we be able to turn to find high quality and trustworthy news and information?
·Is the salvation in citizen, community, and niche journalism?
·What does all this mean to individual journalists, journalism educators and the public?

Although the trust decline has stabilized this year, “It may be,” the State of the News Media 2005, says, “that the expectations of the press have sunk enough that they will not sink much further. People are not dismayed by disappointments in the press. They expect them”

A few years ago when the Freedom Forum published its Best Practices book for newspaper journalists it addressed trust issues by posing a series of statements it learned from talking to the public. Newspapers are unfair when:

·They get the facts wrong and they refuse to admit errors

·They won’t name names (as in anonymous sources)

·They have ignorant or incompetent reporters

·They prey on the weak and they concentrate on bad news

·They lack diversity

·They allow editorial bias in news stories

·They can’t admit that sometimes there’s no story

Of course, all these issues are important, fundamental to trust and quality, but for newsrooms or for us to just deal solely with them would be like fine tuning the fiddle while Rome is burning.

Newsrooms are besieged by corporate ownership woes. There is rampant criticism from the left and right. When it came to coverage of minority communities, Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte said, the mass news media practiced “censorship by omission.” Today ethnic publications are part of the competition. On almost all fronts, news circulation and viewership is declining. Few youth get their news from traditional sources. Entrepreneurs are giving away free newspapers, new cable channels spread audiences thinner and thinner and, classified ad revenues are being eroded by the likes of craigslist, whose founder Craig Newmark, is here today. Indeed, Phil Meyer, author of The Vanishing Newspaper, who gave me the idea for the name A Wake Up Call, even talks of a news death spiral, and more than a year ago another of our speakers, Jay Rosen, told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that, “The age of the mass media is just that – an age. It doesn’t have to last forever.”

This year in preparing notes for a speech in Australia Rosen wrote, “each nation will shortly have a chance to re-establish or overhaul its own press. Or to create one anew. And that is a moment for careful thought.”

In the same vein, The State of the News Media Report 2005, after listing its own litany of news media woes, writes, “Somehow journalism needs to prove that it is acting on behalf of the public, if it is to save itself.”

I would argue the help is there, really it's everywhere, if the journalists are willing to accept it. It is in the form of the audiences themselves. It’s presenting itself in the form of weblogs, video logs, and podcasts. None of which are going away.

Indeed in his excellent article in this month’s WIRED Kevin Kelly writes:

In fewer than 4,000 days, we have encoded half a trillion versions of our collective story and put them in front of 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the world's population. That remarkable achievement was not in anyone's 10-year plan. … Today, at any Net terminal, you can get: an amazing variety of music and video, an evolving encyclopedia, weather forecasts, help wanted ads, satellite images of anyplace on Earth, up-to-the-minute news from around the globe, tax forms, TV guides, road maps with driving directions, real-time stock quotes, telephone numbers, real estate listings with virtual walk-throughs, pictures of just about anything, sports scores, places to buy almost anything, records of political contributions, library catalogs, appliance manuals, live traffic reports, archives to major newspapers - all wrapped up in an interactive index that really works.

And what about trust in all of this, of eBay Kelly writes:

we have an open global flea market that handles 1.4 billion auctions every year and operates from your bedroom. Users do most of the work; they photograph, catalog, post, and manage their own auctions. And they police themselves; while eBay and other auction sites do call in the authorities to arrest serial abusers, the chief method of ensuring fairness is a system of user-generated ratings. Three billion feedback comments can work wonders.

Then he adds:

What we all failed to see was how much of this new world would be manufactured by users, not corporate interests…. This bottom-up takeover was not in anyone's 10-year vision.

Then of course he mentions weblogs:

“No Web phenomenon,” he writes “ is more confounding than blogging. Everything media experts knew about audiences - and they knew a lot - confirmed the focus group belief that audiences would never get off their butts and start making their own entertainment. Everyone knew writing and reading were dead; music was too much trouble to make when you could sit back and listen; video production was simply out of reach of amateurs. Blogs and other participant media would never happen, or if they happened they would not draw an audience, or if they drew an audience they would not matter. What a shock, then, to witness the near-instantaneous rise of 50 million blogs, with a new one appearing every two seconds.”

Why, I ask, would we as journalists, journalism professors and members of the news media in general turn our back on this public power? This bigger brain, that Kelly persuasively argues, will, by the year 2015, help us do so much of our thinking that if users are cut from it, it will feel as if they have had lobotomies. Why don’t more journalists accept what is happening?

Part of the reason is attitude. Newsrooms, a Readership Institute study tells us, operate largely in an aggressive/defensive mode. Not a great formula for welcoming change. They are grounded in tradition and big institutions simply don’t change easily. Years of public journalism experience have told us that most journalists don’t relate well to the public.

Fortunately, some journalists and many citizens get it. Some of them are here today. You will hear from them. What better way to establish trust and quality than to be make the public part of what you do. Or better yet make yourself part of what they are doing, be part of the bigger brain. Become an indispensable link built on trust and quality. And perhaps, by heeding the State of the News Media 2005 advice, journalism will, by acting on behalf of the public, save itself.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 05:30 PM

August 07, 2005 to Amplify Trust Conference has initiated a discussion on Can Trust and Quality Save Journalism? The question plays into our Wake Up Call conference which will be held in San Antonio, this Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2005. Feel free to join the discussion.

By the way, Charlotte-Anne Lucas, content director of, which is the website for the San Antonio Express and KEN5 TV, says: "We're averaging in the high 500,000 plus pageviews a day, so a lot of folks should be tuning in."

Here is the main story and here is a column by the San Antonio Express-News editor Robert Rivard, focusing on the changing dynamics of making news.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 11:37 AM

August 03, 2005

Restoring Trust, San Antonio Conference Update

We have closed the registration for the Wake Up Call: Can Trust and Quality Save Journalism? conference on August 9, 2005 in San Antonio. We were guessing that we would have 60 to 80 people in the room, but now it looks like we are at 105. You can see the registered list as of July 22 here.

We have a great line-up of speakers and a great program. So we should not be surprised at the response from people who want to attend. Of course, we are right in the middle of great speculation of what will become of the news media as we know it. And the discussion is playing itself out almost daily in the places like The New York Times and National Public Radio.

Our conference rooms on August 9 will be wireless and we are hoping for some blogging and podcasting. In fact,, which is run by the San Antonio Express-News and KENS5 will be promoting the conference blogs on its website. Later the folks at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno will be writing a special report. So even if you got shut out of the main event, you can be in touch via the internet.

If you are already signed up, be sure to bring your laptop and start blogging or podcasting. a local hip hop podcast will be demonstarting how to podcast--and we hope helping the folks at the conference to do some podcasting. And if I get some time, I might even try to do a little vlog. Stay tuned.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 05:33 PM

May 10, 2005

Brainstorm with Citizen Journalism's Top Thinkers

A recent AP news article mentioned how Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, Jeff Jarvis, of Newhouse's, and Dan Gillmor, author of the We the Media, are brainstorming on what citizen journalism might be like in the future.

You can join the brainstorming sessions too at the Wake Up Conference on August 9 in San Antonio.

Just look at our panelists. Register early and take your pick with whom you will share a dinner conversation. Plus there will be plenty of chances for interactivity at the conference and the networking reception.

Whether you want to converse with folks from the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times or with folks involved in citizen journalism to ethnic startups, they all will be there.

Register now, while there are still openings, to see where journalism practice and scholarship might be headed, and perhaps have a tiny part in what that future might ultimately be.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 09:40 AM

April 18, 2005

Craig Newmark of Craigslist to Be Trust Panelist

Last week I was busy exchanging emails with Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, asking him to be a speaker at our A Wake Up Call: Can Trust and Quality Save Journalism? conference on August 9 in San Antonio.

He has accepted the invitation. Even though, many of America's news editors might not realize it, this is big news. At least it is for people interested in the future of journalism.

In my email to Newmark I wrote:

This conference is occurring in a special time in media history, and citizens, journalists, and academics need to hear from people like you who will be deciding what the future of the media will be, and perhaps what our democracy will be like. It is very important stuff.

Unbeknowst to me, just at about the same time Newmark and I were exchanging emails, Tim Porter of First Draft was taking notes at the American Society of Newspaper Editors(ASNE) convention. And for me, this is hard to believe, but it shows how lagging behind the news industry is. Porter writes:

One of the most telling moments of the hour occurred just as the meeting opened when Nachison and Peskin put a slide up of Craig Newmark and asked how many people in the room of several hundred recognized him or his name. Only a smattering of hands rose. A few more hands went up at the mention of Craigslist and its free classifieds.
Nachison reminded the editors that the competition of Craigslist didn’t grow out of a business model, but arose more spontaneously from Newmark’s desire to create a community of trust – the same trust newspapers are struggling to regain.
Newmark “doesn’t seem himself as competition,” said Nachison. “He started to build trust and to build community. He doesn’t see himself as competing against newspapers.”
The message here: In today’s media world the audience – and their money – follows trust and credibility, characteristics that evolve from authenticity, transparency and voice, rarities in our newspapers.

So my advice to news editors is for $49 get enlightened on August 9, your paper's, you own and our future might depend on that enlightenment.

Why should news editors and the rest of us know Newmark. Well read this item from a February edition of Mercury News SiliconBeat:

Newmark is intently interested in advancing the citizen journalism movement. Although his plans are still sketchy, he'll likely start with a personal financial investment. But his interest may eventually come to involve craigslist itself.
"As a consumer of news, I've learned that there's too much important stuff which isn't printed or which is distorted on the way out,'' he told us. "One example being news out of the White House. We need to fix it."
"We, meaning the public, need to evolve a trusted institution with lots of fact-checking that we can trust and that we can prove does provide honest news.''
Newmark said his own role would be behind-the-scenes: "I want to help other people do the real work. I'm no news man. I'm not much of a businessman. I'm just one persistent nerd.''
Then just as I was writing this Porter was giving us more information on Newmark and his possible future commitment to citizen journalism. Listen up editors, this is IMPORTANT.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 12:20 AM

April 15, 2005

Using Wi-Fi for San Antonio Communities--Maybe

George Cisneros, one of the panelist at the Wake Up Call conference on Aug. 9, is rushing a deadline in San Antonio "to get free or low-cost Internet access to some of the city's poorer residents," according to a San Antonio Express article written in early April.

Cisneros told the Express: "This is going to open up San Antonio's under-served communities to the rest of the world."

However, there could be one glitch. The article says

...a bill in the Texas Legislature aims to put restrictions on city-sponsored free Wi-Fi access.
House Bill 789, which passed in the House of Representatives earlier this week, is one of 11 bills around the country backed by big telecommunications and cable companies that prohibit cities from providing blanketed free Wi-Fi access.

If Cisneros can get the Wi-Fi up before June 15, the law would not affect his effort.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 04:11 PM

April 13, 2005

Rupert Murdoch Gives News Editors Dire Warning

I am watching a C-Span speech by Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of the News Corporation, at today's American Society of Newspaper Editors conference. He restated the dire warning about the vanishing newspapers that you have been reading in these pages often.

I am pulling this quote from Jeff Jarvis' Buzzmachine. (Go to Buzzmachine to get an in-depth report on Murdoch's speech--and the full speech.) This from the speech:

Scarcely a day goes by without some claim that new technologies are fast writing newsprint’s obituary. Yet, as an industry, most of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent.

And this:

There are a number of reasons for our inertness in the face of this advance. First, for centuries, newspapers as a medium enjoyed a virtual information monopoly – roughly from the birth of the printing press to the rise of radio. We never had a reason to second-guess what we were doing. Second, even after the advent of television, a slow but steady decline in readership was masked by population growth that kept circulations reasonably intact. Third, even after absolute circulations started to decline in the 1990s, profitability did not.
But those days are gone. The trends are against us.
So unless we awaken to these changes, and adapt quickly, we will, as an industry, be relegated to the status of also-rans or, worse, many of us will disappear altogether.

Then I turned to the ASNE convention web page. Here are a couple of headlines on the web page:

Survey Paints Troubling Newsroom Trends
Experts See Citizen Journalism in Newspapers’ Future

Now all this brings us to our conference A Wake Up Call: Can Trust and Quality Save Journalism? This conference is playing right into the dilemma, and we have top people helping answer these questions:

-- Is the mainstream media in a death spiral?
-- Can improving editorial quality and trust save it?
-- If not, where we will be able to turn to find high quality and trustworthy news and information?
-- Is the salvation in citizen, community, and niche journalism?
--What does all this mean to individual journalists, journalism educators and the public?

One thing that was picked up in the question and answers session was Murdoch saying newspapers will not be able to charge for readership on the Internet. They will have to draw in large audiences and make money off adverstisements.

It was one thing having Phil Meyer a professor giving a wake up call, but quite another when Rupert Murdoch says it with even more force.

Editor's Note:strong> This was also blogged at PJNet. The writer for both blogs is the same guy--me. So when I have items that are pertinent to both blogs, I will blog them at both places.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 11:20 PM

April 12, 2005

Welcome to the Restoring the Trust Website

The Journalism and the Public: Restoring the Trust website is now up and running. This is part of a one year project that Cole Campbell, dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno and I are hosting in conjunction with the Public Journalism Network ( and Civic Journalism Interest Group in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). It is underwritten in part by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

As you will see by roaming about this website, the big event will be the conference entitled: A Wake Up Call: Can Trust and Quality Save Journalism? The conference will be in San Antonio, August 9 to help open the AEJMC annual convention activities.

Also I will continue doing more IM Restoring the Trust Interviews. I sent out a few more invites today. Know someone who is doing interesting work in this area, contact me.

Any how, take a look around. Got any suggestions, or find any glitches let me know.

And of course start making plans for the conference now. In fact, register now and be done with it. You won't want to get shut out.

Much of the work here is supported by the Fowler Chair in Communication, which I hold, at Kennesaw State University.

Special thanks to Cori Marguriet, Griff Wigley and Chris Ward for all the hard work they put into making this website possile.

Posted by Leonard Witt at 12:06 AM